Portland, OR – Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden were joined by Oregon Representatives Kurt Schrader, Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici today to urge the U.S. Coast Guard to reverse its sudden decision to close its air facility in Newport.
In a letter to Admiral Paul Zukunft, Commandant of the Coast Guard, the Oregon lawmakers stressed the safety implications of closing the facility, writing that the unilateral decision to permanently shut Newport’s doors this December would endanger lives.
“Closing this facility would threaten the safety of mariners who make their living in the waters around Newport,” they wrote, “and we urge you to reverse this decision.”
The decision is especially puzzling because the Port of Newport recently completed a multi-million dollar rebuilding of its international terminal, which is expected to increase international shipping traffic. Newport is home to one of Oregon’s three deep draft ports, the state’s largest commercial fishing fleet, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Pacific fleet, Oregon State University research vessels, and has a robust recreational and sport fishing industry.
Newport fisherman landed over 80 million pounds of fish in 2012, a three-fold increase from the 1992 haul, and Newport saw a fifteen-fold increase in the number of sports fishing trips for Albacore tuna between 2001 and 2012.
“The USCG rightly recognized the importance of having search and rescue assets so close to such a hub of marine activity in 1987,’’ the letter said, ”which is why the decision to reduce those same services with today’s even larger hub is troubling.”
The lawmakers also raised concerns about the Coast Guard’s unilateral announcement to close the facility in December, just months after assuring Congressional offices that the facility would remain open through 2015.
“We join the Oregon Coast community in expressing our admiration and support for the USCG and its mission,” they wrote. “We also believe strongly that removing search and rescue assets from Newport would only heighten the chance of a very preventable tragedy.”
Read the letter here.